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Reid the political pugilist punched the wrong things

Jay Ambrose

By Jay Ambrose (TNS)

Published April 3, 2015

Reid the political pugilist punched the wrong things

Jay Ambrose
(TNS)
Progressives like to blame House Republicans for Washington stalemate, but they lag behind Harry Reid, the former Senate majority leader. Thanks not insignificantly to his own doings, he is now the minority leader, though he is retiring at the end of 2016. He won't be missed except by those who think any abuse of office and American preciousness is acceptable if it furthers their druthers.

Let's start with reports of how this crudely manipulative Democrat from Nevada too often kept important bills from being passed by denying either Republicans or members of his own party a chance of offering amendments. The purpose was to thwart Republicans and keep President Barack Obama out of veto territory. Not all Democrats were pleased, it's said, because they did not always agree with the president, knew many constituents didn't either and wanted to go on the record in a way that could win more votes.

Reid also used his uncompromising influence simply to turn the Senate's back on some important bills coming out of the House with Democratic support. The House did the same sort of thing with some Senate bills, but he did it far more often even though either chamber could pass its own versions, work out differences in conference committees and then vote again with the other chamber. Overall, as time passed, the Senate acted on fewer and fewer bills, and meanwhile Reid also negated the filibuster rule on presidential nominees, meaning less deliberation, less reach for congressional and popular consensus, more bullying and more truly worrisome appointments.

Rather than debate, Reid, who is klutzily inarticulate and seemingly given to simplistic understandings, has preferred name-calling, as in saying that President George W. Bush was "a loser and a liar." During the 2012 presidential election, he repeatedly and maliciously stated that Republican candidate Mitt Romney had not paid taxes when he had. And, literally dozens upon dozens of times, he misused his Senate platform to curse the billionaire, philanthropic Koch brothers whose chief sin had been donating campaign funds to Republicans. Reid's billionaire friends behave differently. They donate to Democrats.

His ethics? Consider accounts of a politically inspired Reid-Obama deal in which a former Reid aide got a federal position in which he stopped progress on considering Yucca Mountain in Nevada as a nuclear repository despite legal requirements. It's complicated, but the short version is that the deal held up moving nuclear waste to where science says it can be safely kept and instead left it close to tens of millions of Americans where science says no such thing.

On the same broad subject, did you hear about the time in 2006 that a Reid earmark sent $18 million in taxpayer money for bridge construction in Nevada? It so happens that the project almost surely increased the value of some nearby land he owned in Arizona, which, in and of itself, makes him guilty of nothing, just someone to keep an eye on.

So then, this year, keep watch. An inspector general has noted how Reid put pressure on a Homeland Security official to speed things up on letting foreign investors get U.S. visas for investing at least $500,000 each — a reported total of $115 million — in a Las Vegas casino. Responding to whistle blowers, the inspector general said rules were broken by the official, and Reid said the whistle blowers were "whiners" and that he was just serving constituents.

Not just a few articles about Harry Reid note how he was once an amateur boxer and call him a pugilist in reference to his hard-hitting political style. It's true enough, and, as he plans to step out of the ring, it's worth noting other truths, such as how he has commonly hit below the belt and beats up on more than people. He beats up on public welfare, revered traditions and basic democratic principles.

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Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.

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